Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

11.14.13On No Opt Out… and a Parent Who Objects

A colleague from the Midwest reached out a few days ago to ask a question that’s not entirely without precedent:

After reading “Teach Like a Champion,” I have begun using many of these practices, including “no opt out.” I have recently received a parent complaint that this strategy embarrasses her son when he does not know the answer. She has instructed me to move on to another student when her son says he does not know the answer and not come back to her son. I was wondering what advice Doug has for approaching this situation.

 Some initial thoughts:

  • I would first try to make the parents understand my purpose, that my goal was not to embarrass but the ensure the child’s success. I might even observe that they could play a role in helping him to see that getting it wrong wasn’t really “bad”  that is was, in fact, normal in education and that everyone, including the best students and including teachers and parents got it wrong (and then strove to get it right). So we could start by trying to change his perception that being wrong is cause for embarrassment.
  • I’m optimistic that I could make the parents see it from this perspective but if not I think I’d explain that my job as a teacher is to ensure that all my students master the skills and information I am accountable for inculcating and while I will always try to be as positive and supportive as I can with your child–and with any child though I’ll be especially attentive in his case–his feelings of sheepishness are not sufficient rationale for allowing him not to learn.  Thus I cannot promise you that I will not use this approach. And it is because I respect him and his ability that I say this.
  • That said, I’d make sure to tell my principal I was going to say that FIRST so he/she would understand, agree, and have my back if the parent then went over my head.
  • And of course I’d be sure to add lots of error normalizing language to my No Opt Outs.  Like “Yeah, that’s a tough one, and I’m sure other people struggled with it as well, but stay with me and I bet we can get you there.”  And then afterwords say, maybe—“Nice work, I knew you could get it. In fact, let me ask you another one so you can show off your skills a little,” etc.

Anyway a tough real world question.  What would you add?  What did I miss?


2 Responses to “On No Opt Out… and a Parent Who Objects”

  1. S Sayles
    October 23, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    Instead of requiring the student to answer, we have pass option. The student can say Pass and choose a friend to help him or her out of the tough situation they are in within the classroom (not knowing the answer). The friend helps them out and answer the question, explains the question and then double checks to see if the peer understands. Once the peer understands, he or she is then required to take the lead on the next question. He or She can continue to pass, but he or she will be required to answer a question during the class at one point.

    • Doug Lemov
      October 24, 2016 at 11:59 am

      A very interesting and useful adaptation. Thanks for sharing it!

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